Meet Wolfjay. The Melbourne, Australia-based non-binary newcomer (born Jack Alexander) has earned early buzz in their native country tastemaker Triple J, who described them as “the soundtrack to falling in love in a dream." The digital hype cycle helped further spread their music locally, while also attracting a co-sign from New York-based musician pronoun., who has signed them to her DIY label Sleep Well Records, distributed The Orchard.
"Jack's music instantly grabbed me," says pronoun.'s Alyse Vellturo. "'Together' sounds like a song I've been missing my whole life."
Below, Wolfjay shares the first play of their soaring queer anthem "Together" exclusively Billboard.
“I wrote ‘Together' the day Australia voted to legalize same-sex marriage in that nationwide plebiscite, laying on the floor in a recording studio with someone I found fascinating and incredible and lovely,” they tell Billboard. “We drank prosecco until there wasn’t any left and took turns being honest with each other.”
The euphoric alt-bop is an ode to the freedom that comes with self-acceptance and of “being absorbed by the warmth and weight of being close to someone," they add. "Sharing the same space for a moment and letting it consume you, finally letting go of every stressful thing that’s trying to steal that moment away — forgetting the future together.”
With a forthcoming EP set for release later this year Vellturo's Sleep Well Records, Wolfjay is all-but-ready for their international debut. To fete the arrival of “Together,” Wolfjay curated a special edition of Billboard's Summer of Pride series — titled "Shared Experiences" — which highlights some of their choice queer anthems and cuts by Rostam, SOPHIE, Julien Baker and more. "I've had a moment with each of these songs where I sat bolt upright and was just like 'yes! That! That's what I've been feeling for so long!'" they add. "Over time all those abstract reactions slowly stitched themselves together to the point where I feel confident expressing my identity now."
Below, Wolfjay opens up about Pride, coming out as non-binary, linking up with pronoun. and more.
Who were some of your biggest inflences musically growing up?
I had the biggest fascination with Bowie when I was a kid, the way that he just seemed to float, that nothing weighed him down. He barely seemed attached to the earth – as if at any moment he could just drift into space. I think an artist's ability to reinvent themselves is the most appealing element to me. Artists like Kanye [West], Vampire Weekend, St. Vincent, and Charli XCX have stuck with me since I first heard them as a teenager because of the narrative that just keeps growing as they twist and turn and contort themselves into new shapes and sounds.
How did you first connect with pronoun.'s Alyse Vellturo?
I remember discovering pronoun on a Spotify playlist a few years ago and just being so hooked. I deeply love indie guitar music but am super tired of hearing straight white dudes write songs about straight white dude things, so listening to pronoun was just a breath of fresh air. I started following her on Instagram straight away and she posted something one day on her story breaking down how someone had reached out to her to do a remix of one of her songs. I was so keen to work with her but didn't think I had much of a chance, so literally just copied the message she had screenshot and put in her story word for word and emailed her. In hindsight, it was probably could of come across as sarcastic [laughs]. I got a reply not long after and I sent her some of the stuff I'd been working on, and she got back to me saying that she had been playing 'Together' for all of her friends and that she really loved it.
Then what happened?!
We ended up chatting a bunch on FaceTime about the nuances of identity and how that worked in with my music, and Alyse was just instantly on board. She chatted about how she had gone through a lot of the same stuff herself, and after a pretty turbulent process of trying to work things out, I felt comfortable with everything for the first time.
How does it feel to release this new music her Sleep Well Records, and why do you think DIY/indie labels like this are so necessary in today's market?
DIY/indie labels just open up so many options to independent musicians, from exposure in new markets to increased resources for releases. You have the flexibility of being lean and responsive to market trends and shifts, without the huge lumbering weight of a major label. I think there's enormous potential for small teams of multi-skilled individuals working a release from different parts of the world. Plus, considering that so many artists are kind of forced to also be art directors, publicists, and content creators, an indie label still gives you the flexibility being able to take ownership of your platform while having more support. Personally, the most incredible thing about releasing on Sleep Well Records is just having someone support my work. Knowing that an artist and entrepreneur like Alyse backs my work is super validating. I doubt myself and my work a lot, so it gives me so much energy knowing that I'm supported by someone I respect so much. I'd encourage every independent artist to reach out to people they look up to and share their work with them. Be part of the conversation and see what happens.
Tell me about your coming out experience.
It took a few years after me leaving the church to be able to articulate how I felt comfortable identifying. A lot of that process was just finding labels that I was frustrated by not fitting and then cutting them o!. I know "non-binary" and "bi-sexual" are just new labels, but they feel so freeing. I feel like I've finally found a new wardrobe of clothes that fit me well, but instead of jackets and sneakers and dresses, they're headspaces and ways I can think about myself. I've always sort of just naturally gravitated towards the queer community. I now have an incredible friendship group of amazing people with really diverse lived experiences who have been able to help me explore what's comfortable. Most of my friends just starting using my preferred pronouns after seeing me refer to myself that way and it was incredibly natural and exciting. I remember texting my best friend about switching my dating apps to show everyone and them just being super excited with me, haha. It's been a series of little steps and little celebrations in my DM's each time. It's been great.
Have you faced any moments of discrimination in your career so far?
The only discrimination I've faced has been from the gay community itself, mostly gay white men online, but they're not representative of the whole community. When I started to talk about my experience on my socials there were some members of the community who were very vocal of their beliefs that I wasn't "gay enough" to call myself bisexual, which is such a ridiculous concept. I guess that for them seeing someone come out as bi could seem like a cop-out, especially after their sexuality has probably made them a target for harassment. I guess all I can do is be consistent and know that I'm comfortable within myself.
Growing up in Australia, what was the LGBTQ+ community like locally?
I grew up in a smaller city an hour's flight from Melbourne called Adelaide, which was super lovely but started to feel very small over the last few years. There's a really lovely queer community there based around the club culture, and a lot of my initial experiences of feeling comfortable in queer spaces were at small club nights my friends were playing or hosting. I think because of my history in Adelaide though I didn't feel comfortable expressing myself or talking about my identity or sexuality until I moved to Melbourne earlier this year. I spent the bulk of my teenage and young adult years in one of the bigger churches in Adelaide where there was no opportunity for any kind of discussion around identity.
How did that environment affect you in your own journey to self-acceptance?
My first real interaction with the queer community was having a pastor of the church tell me to confront a kid I was mentoring and looking after in the church youth group about them posting online about being gay, and it just made me feel sick. The church I attended was super heteronormative and would often preach about the explicit roles of a man and a woman, and always in the framework of a "Christian family". I never saw myself in any of the images they presented as ideal, and eventually just got sick of trying to force myself to conform to that image. I left after a discussion around same-sex marriage with leadership where I was the only person defending it, and I realised that these just weren't my people.
How has the move to Melbourne opened up your worldview further?
It was mostly about leaving behind an old version of me, rather than leaving Adelaide, but Melbourne's queer community is incredible. I live in Fitzroy, which is a very progressive and accepting suburb famous for its creative scene and live music venues. Every day I walk down a street painted with a giant pride flag, passing same-sex couples holding hands on their way to get their morning coffee. It just feels like a safe place to be yourself. I haven't gotten involved with the community directly yet, but just being around it has brought so much warmth and energy to my everyday life. I don't spend much time in many traditionally 'straight' spaces, I start to feel sick the minute there's too much testosterone in the room so I've mostly been able to stay away from environments where my sexuality or identity would make me a target.
Who are some LGBTQ+ identifying Aussie acts we should know about?
Locally within Australia I admire Lonelyspeck, Rachel Maria Cox, and Heather from Cry Club. Watching them and seeing how they express their identity through their work and online presence has helped me work out what feels comfortable to me. On a more global scale, ANOHNI, SOPHIE and Shamir are my biggest inspirations. Seeing how they discuss identity so precisely and deliberately opened my eyes to facets of my identity that I hadn't previously considered.
For more on Wolfjay, head here, and pronoun.'s Sleep Well Records, head here.